AI for Students with ADHD: Revolutionizing Learning

4 Minutes Read
  • ADHD can impact a student's ability to focus and learn
  • AI can revolutionize learning for those with ADHD with personalized learning experiences
  • While the technology is available now to make a difference, the investment needs to be there for students to benefit

ADHD and its impact on learning

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. It is characterized by difficulties in paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms can significantly impact a student's ability to learn and succeed in school. Students and adults with ADHD often struggle with staying focused, organizing tasks, and managing time effectively. As a result, they may experience academic challenges and lower academic performance compared to their neurotypical peers. This is not to say people with ADHD aren't successful in school; they are, but those with ADHD have to work much harder and often need accommodations to achieve at the same level as their peers. In some cases, these accommodations may not be fully met, leading to additional stress, confusion, and anxiety, further hindering a student's ability to focus on academic tasks. I know this firsthand as someone who has raised a child with ADHD.

ADHD can also affect various cognitive processes, such as memory, processing speed, and executive functions. This can make it harder for students with ADHD to retain information, follow instructions, and complete assignments on time. These difficulties can lead to frustration, self-esteem issues, and feelings of inadequacy.

How ADHD stands to transform learning

As a technologist and designer, I strongly believe in the transformative power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the field of education, particularly for students with ADHD. AI technology offers innovative solutions to address the specific learning needs of students with ADHD and enhance their academic success. One of the key roles of AI in supporting students with ADHD is providing personalized learning experiences. AI-powered platforms and tools can adapt to the individual needs and learning styles of students, offering tailored content and resources that cater to their specific strengths and weaknesses.

Imagine a student who constantly finds their mind wandering during lectures, unable to fully engage with the material that could potentially shape their future career path. That student was me. Despite being an intelligent student, I struggled to pay attention in class and missed out on countless opportunities. It was disheartening to fail tests and feel like I was constantly falling behind. However, I was the type of individual who thrived on hands-on experiences and those were far and few between. I ultimately dropped out of high school and through sheer luck happened to discover the Internet in my twenties and it changed my life. For the first time I was able to dig in and create something, solve problems, and learn at my own speed.

Now imagine that same type of student having the opportunity to embark on a space exploration journey, immersing themselves in the role of an astronaut. With the advancements we have made, we can create educational platforms that enable students to interact with scientists, astronomers, and even Mission Control.

Additionally, AI can assist in monitoring and tracking students' progress and performance. By analyzing data on students' engagement, attention, and comprehension, AI algorithms can provide valuable insights to educators and parents. This data-driven approach enables early identification of areas where students may be struggling and allows for targeted interventions and support.

When my child was suspected of needing support, the teacher struggled to openly discuss their observations or concerns. Instead, I was advised to get a psychoeducational evaluation. When I pressed for more information on what might be happening or the teacher's thoughts, she carefully withheld her views. I understand the reasons behind this caution, but as a parent, it was an incredibly frustrating and worrisome experience. However, if students were learning through AI-enabled systems and parents had access to the data, then it would be much easier to identify and understand their struggles, progress, and achievements.  Additionally, AI can also provide real-time feedback and guidance, helping students with ADHD stay on track and make continuous progress. I remember when my daughter was at a tutoring school and they provided this level of real-time feedback. It helped both of us feel like we were making progress and keeping on top of things. 

Unfortunately, not all schools have embraced these tools and successfully kept parents informed and involved, which is a missed opportunity for many students with ADHD.

AI-powered tools for personalized learning

Beyond recognizing student needs, AI-powered tools are revolutionizing personalized learning for students with ADHD. These tools leverage AI algorithms to adapt content and learning materials to the unique needs and preferences of each student. For example, AI can analyze a student's reading level, comprehension abilities, and interests to recommend appropriate reading materials that engage and motivate them. AI-powered virtual tutors and digital assistants can provide personalized instruction, answering questions and explaining concepts in a way that resonates with each student.

Moreover, AI can facilitate active learning and interactive experiences like the space experience I talked about above. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies powered by AI can create immersive learning environments that capture students' attention and facilitate the kind of hands-on learning often only available to those in private schools and gifted programs. These technologies can simulate real-world scenarios, allowing students to practice and apply their knowledge in a safe and engaging manner. AI-powered adaptive assessments can also help identify gaps in knowledge and provide targeted remediation.

Enhancing focus and attention with AI

One of the significant challenges faced by students with ADHD is maintaining focus and attention. AI technology offers innovative solutions to address this challenge and improve students' ability to concentrate and engage in learning activities. For instance, AI-powered tools can provide visual and auditory cues to help students stay on task and follow instructions. These cues can serve as reminders and prompts, assisting students in staying organized and managing their time effectively. They can also suggest breaks which are often needed for students with ADHD to maintain optimal focus during active learning sessions.

Furthermore, AI can analyze students' patterns of engagement and attention to identify optimal learning conditions and even suggest a calendar for the week based on how a student performs best. One student may benefit from 4 hour-long classes a day while another student may benefit from 8 micro-units of learning for 15-20 minutes at a time. As we progress into a future where students have greater access to technology and online learning, they may be able to attend school in a flexible manner that allows these kinds of choices in scheduling and on-site versus off-site instruction.

Bright lights and noisy classrooms can have a detrimental impact on many students with ADHD, leading to a decline in their academic performance. By monitoring factors such as noise levels, lighting, and background distractions, AI algorithms can also recommend adjustments to the learning environment that promote better focus and attention. 

The future of AI in education

The future of AI in education holds immense potential for students with ADHD. I am incredibly excited to see how we advance and support students with these newly available technologies. I only hope that it doesn't take 50 years for us to start seeing an investment in AI in education at scale. 

As we embrace the potential of AI in education, we can create a more inclusive and empowering learning environment for all students, regardless of their unique learning needs and challenges.

Picture of Karen Passmore

Karen Passmore

Karen Passmore is the CEO of Predictive UX, an agency focused on product strategies and user experience design for AI and data-rich applications. Karen talks about UX, AI, Inclusive Design, Content and Data Strategies, Search, Knowledge Graphs, and Enterprise Software. Her career is marked by product leadership at Fortune 500 companies, startups, and government agencies.